Russians took to social media in the wake of a deadly shopping-mall fire to allege that national TV channels avoided coverage of the March 25 event because Moscow was not keen to highlight "bad news" -- a suggestion the Kremlin has dismissed as "absurd."
As the death toll mounted -- reaching 64 on March 26 -- some social-media users faulted mainly state-run TV for failing to break into their normal Sunday broadcasting to report on the tragedy that was unfolding in the Siberian city or Kemerovo.
Calling the coverage "disgraceful," journalist Ilya Varlamov posted a snapshot of some of the TV fare on offer on March 26, including a game show, a film, and what appears to be a clip with Russian President Vladimir Putin playing a grand piano.
Writing on Facebook, Yelizaveta Aleksandrova-Zorina accused TV stations of avoiding the "negative news" of the Kemerovo fire and of carrying on with normal programming, including a talk show hosted by Rossia TV channel presenter Vladimir Solovyev about "how America hates us."
Facebook user Natalia Gevorkyan compared the scant coverage of the Kemerovo fire with widespread reporting of the Kursk submarine disaster in 2000, arguing that journalism standards in Russia had sunk in the interim.
When asked by a journalist on March 26 about the apparent thin coverage of the Kemerovo fire on national TV, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by TASS as saying it was "sheer foolishness" and "absurdity" to suggest the Kremlin was blocking "bad news."
Some social-media users defended Russian national TV's coverage of the Kemerovo blaze. A Twitter user identified as "Alexey" posted a screen shot of coverage on Rossia-24, which he said "was broadcasting everything" from Kemerovo.
The Russian-language news site Meduza reported that Rossia-24 featured nearly nonstop coverage from the Siberian mall, with its first report coming at 2 p.m., Moscow time, when casualties were first being reported.
Meduza also pointed out that NTV was the only nationwide Russian TV channel with a scheduled Sunday afternoon news program. NTV's news broadcast at 4 p.m. began with a report straight from Kemerovo.
Rossia-1 and Channel One first reported on the blaze on March 25 during their regularly scheduled Sunday evening news broadcast, according to Meduza. The independent news outlet that focuses on Russia also said that state-run TV had shied away from unscheduled live news reporting since the Beslan hostage crisis.
More than 330 people -- most of them children -- were killed in a botched rescue by Russian security forces after militants stormed a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, on September 1, 2004.